Resurrection Theory-1843

Joseph Smith was at least two people. I’m not speaking of fathers and sons with the same name, or schizophrenia qua Brodie, but the duality that lived in Smith’s intellectual life. The perfect illustration is the scriptural dictum: seek learning by study and also by faith.[1] When Joseph spoke, you couldn’t always tell what his source was. His own mind, God’s mind, or someone else’s mind. Naturally, there are folks who believe it all came out of his own head. For various reasons, I disagree (i.e., I think all three were actualized), so I want to consider the richer situation.

But at least Smith ate his own dog food here. He studied, and used that acquired knowledge base to teach from. In these days of footnoting everything down to the placement of commas, we must avoid projecting a need for that precision back onto 19th century speakers/writers. That is not just a naïve or unsympathetic way of dealing with another time and place, it may lead to wrong conclusions. What were Joseph’s sources in any given declaration?

There is a little bit of help here from Joseph’s own mouth. He admitted he was not in constant touch with the Divine, and he would not teach something as revelation, if he didn’t get it from a revelatory experience:

he stated that when he was in a ‘quandary,’ he asked the Lord for a revelation, and when he could not get it, he ‘followed the dictates of his own judgment which were as good as a revelation to him; but he never gave anything to his people as a revelation, unless it was a revelation, and the Lord did reveal himself to him.’ [David Nye White inteview of Joseph Smith in the Pittsburg Weekly Gazette September 15, 1843.]

But we are left to our own devices otherwise.

The most frequent theme in Joseph’s funeral addresses is an obvious one from the Christian perspective: resurrection. But it’s not the text of a funeral sermon I want to refer to here. During the April 1843 conference of the church in Nauvoo, Ill., Orson Pratt is reported as giving a “Lecture upon the Second advent of Christ in connexion with the resurrection & to refute the argument of the transition of matter He said that Only about 3/4 of the matter contained in one creature could be converted to the use of another”[2]

Joseph Smith responded to Pratt’s remarks:

Joseph said to complete the subject of Bro. Pratt’s. I thought it a glorious subject with one additional idea addition their is no fundamental principle belonging to a human System that “ever goes into another in this world or the world to come.” the principle of Mr Pratt was correct. I care not what the theories of men are.–we have the testimony that God will raise us up & he has power to do it. If any one supposes that any part of our bodies, that is the fundamental parts thereof, ever goes into another body he is mistaken[3]

So what is being claimed here? It is a bit mysterious I think. Buck’s “Theological Dictionary”[4] which Joseph seems to have access to, makes the same observation: “It is true indeed, that the body has not always the same particles, which are continually changing, it has always the same constituent parts, which proves its identity; it is the same body that is born that dies, and the same that dies that shall rise again;”

If Pratt is referring to chemical[5] content of food becoming part of the consuming organism, then he may be speaking of current (1840s) scientific speculation. The importance of the issue derived from the resurrection. Apparently it was thought that the resurrection was a literal gathering of materials that last formed the body. If the stuff that formed one body had become a part of another then to whom does it belong?

Joseph states that the essential principles of one body do not become part of another. He does not tell us what a “fundamental principle” may be, but possibly he is referring to Buck here.

In a day of organ transplants and artificial hearts and cell replacement cycles, this notion becomes problematic.

If Joseph believed in what is termed “extreme resurrection,” that is, that the resurrected body contains only and exactly that matter found in the corpse of the person resurrected, one becomes involved in the “two-body” paradox. A moldering body in the sea for example is consummed by some animal who is in turn consummed by another person, say. That “chemistry” becomes part of the receiving person who might die then. To whom does the chemistry belong in extreme resurrection? Joseph’s claim, if true would avoid such a paradox. However, such a claim is patently false. Human metabolism certainly allows for the uptake and incorporation of injested chemicals, indeed many medical tests depend on this process. Resurrecting the Donner Party could be problematic. Moreover, human transplants from dead donors make whole cell structures a part of the receiving person. In some sense, DNA structure is unique to each organism, however, and even a transplant is still regarded as foreign by the host. In that sense, there is a permanent distinction between one body and another. The question of twins however may suggest that Joseph’s “fundamental parts” should be thought of as something else entirely. Depending on where the idea expressed came from of course! (grin)

[1] Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[2] Franklin D. Richards notebook, holograph, CHL. “Transition of matter” probably refers to the transition of Aristotelian forms a la Roger Bacon (for example, chapter 12 of his Opus Tertium).

[3] Joseph Smith diary (entry by Willard Richards).

[4] Charles Buck and George Bush, A Theological Dictionary, 1830 ed. p. 399.

[5] By chemical, I’m violating my own principle. The periodic table didn’t exist.

2 Responses to Resurrection Theory-1843

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Interesting. I hadn’t read it this way before, assuming that he was saying closer to Pratt or Young in Utah. Of course, Buck was drawing on centuries of debate surrounding resurrection. There have been some fascinating studies of that (medieval debates about fetus eating cannibals and the cult of the holy foreskin, etc.).

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    What a wonderful relic, J. I guess its women only though, right????

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